Chromebooks & Family Zone

Considering purchasing a Chromebook? Or are you looking for instructions on setting it up to be cyber-safe?

Written by Tech Expert:

Jessica Hill

Chromebooks are an affordable computing device geared towards schools and learning however they are also becoming increasingly popular in business and with parents.

What is the difference between a Chromebook and a computer or tablet?

When they were launched, Chromebooks essentially just ran Google’s Chrome browser. This meant all you could do on them was connect to the internet and access websites. 

Things have moved on a lot since then. Now you can run Microsoft Office apps, access app stores inside Chrome browsers, and Google is also making Android apps available on Chromebooks, making them an incredibly flexible (albeit increasingly complex to understand) platform.

From a cyber safety perspective the key difference you should remember is this:

  • On computers apps are installed on the device.

  • On Chromebooks apps are installed for the user.

This is why Google requires Google Accounts for all Chromebook users. With computers, apps are installed on the device, and are therefore typically available to all users of the device.

If considering a Chromebook you will need to take steps to make your child’s Google account and their Chromebook safe.

Should I buy a Chromebook for my child?

This depends on the reasons you’re buying the device, however, if cyber safety is your key concern, here are our thoughts:

For school programs

Chromebooks are a very good platform in terms of cyber safety for school device programs. Google allows these devices to be cloud-managed, allowing easy deployment of cyber safety features and robust management of the device and their users.

If your child is under 14

Chromebooks create some challenges for parents when their child is under 14. Google requires users of their devices to be registered with Google (email) accounts. If a user is under 14, then Google imposes their parental control suite called Family Link. This works for some families, but it is complex and has some limitations. 

On balance, provided you set it up properly, Chromebooks are a cyber-safe choice for users under 14.

If your child is over 14

Once your child turns 14 Google lets them take control of their own Google account and therefore what they can access and do on the internet and on a Chromebook. 

From this age you can install Family Zone onto your child’s Google account (via the Chrome Web Store), however, they have the right to remove it. You can also disable guest account access on your Chromebooks; however, Google permits factory resets (Powerwash) which can undo it.

On balance, in our view Chromebooks are too difficult to make safe for children aged over 14 and you should consider another platform.

How to manage school-issued Chromebooks

Chromebooks are very popular with schools because they’re affordable, offer great features to collaborate and allow school IT departments to “manage” them.

In this context “management” means the school can remotely configure safety settings such as enforcing the use of Family Zone in the child’s school Google account and restricting who can use the device.

How do I know if my child’s Chromebook is managed?

When you sign in to a managed Chromebook, some features are already set up such as apps, printers and who can use the device.

To check if your Chromebook is managed by a school:

  • Go to the status area where your account picture appears.

  • Look for the managed device icon Managed Chrome icon.

  • If you see this icon Managed Chrome icon, the device is managed.

How do I know if my child’s Google account is managed?

When schools create Google/email accounts for students they can choose to enable admin rights to them. This is called ‘management’. A managed Google account will have policies applied such as pre-loaded apps (e.g. filters like Family Zone).

If your Google account is managed, you'll see a list of policies when you type "about:policy" in the Chrome browser address bar.

If your Google account isn't being managed, and you go to about:policy, you'll see "No policies set."

How do I keep my child’s school-managed Chromebook safe?

Typically schools will restrict who can use their Chromebooks to students or staff at the school. If this is the case, neither you or your child will be able to sign into the Chromebook with personal Google accounts.

If the school device you are using does permit you to sign in using a personal Google account or a guest account then there is a risk that your child may create their own personal Google account and use this to bypass the filters.

In these circumstances we suggest you speak to your child’s school (or ask them to speak to us) about the settings they apply on their Chromebooks.

How do I keep my child’s unmanaged school Chromebook safe?

If your child’s Chromebook was purchased by you or as part of a school BYO program then it’s likely unmanaged. 

Here’s how you go about setting it up to be cyber-safe.

Step 1: Check that your child’s Chromebook is unmanaged

To check if your Chromebook is not managed by a school:

  • Go to the status area where your account picture appears.

  • Look for the managed device icon Managed Chrome icon.

  • If you DO NOT see this icon Managed Chrome icon, then the device is not managed.

Step 2: Make sure you’re set as the device Owner

Your next job is to ensure you’re the owner of the device. Owners have the admin rights to control the device.

The first person who signs in to a Chromebook is set as the device owner

If someone (such as your child) has already signed into the Chromebook then you need to start again. Here’s how:

  1. Sign out of the Chromebook.

  2. Press and hold Ctrl + Alt + Shift + R.

  3. Select Restart.

  4. In the box that appears, select Powerwash > Continue.

  5. Follow the steps that appear and, once the Powerwash is complete, sign in with your Google account. You will now be set up as the owner.

  6. Once you've reset your Chromebook follow the on-screen instructions to set up your Chromebook.

Should I let my child use their personal Google account on a school Chromebook?

We recommend you don’t do this because:

  1. If your child is under 14, you will need to create a Family Link account with Google and these accounts don’t work well with school accounts.

  2. If your child is over 14, then their Google account gives them full rights to the internet and you have little ability to control them.

If you want to set up personal Google accounts for your children, see the instructions below.

How to manage personal Chromebooks & Google accounts

Using Family Zone with Google accounts for children over 13

Once children turn 13, Google lets them take control of their own Google account and therefore what they can access and do on a Chromebook. While you can install Family Zone on your child’s Google account (via the Chrome Web Store), they will have the ability to remove it. 

We suggest you speak to your teenager and agree on ground rules before setting up Family Zone on their device. 

Step 1: Switch your Chromebook on and run the setup wizard

1: Turn on your Chromebook

  1. If the battery is detached, install the battery.

  2. Press the power button.

2: Follow the on-screen instructions

  1. To choose your language and keyboard settings, select the language that appears on the screen.

  2. Choose your WiFi network.

  3. Accept the Terms of Service.

3: Sign in with your Parent Google account

  • The first person to sign into the device becomes the Owner (Administrator).

  • Remember to sign is as a Parent, not your child’s school or personal Google account.

  • If you do not have a Google account, follow the on-screen prompts to create one.

Step 2: Restrict access to your family’s Google accounts only

1: Add all of your family users to the Chromebook (including school Google accounts)

  1. If you're signed in to your Chromebook, sign out.

  2. On the bottom, click Add person.

  3. Enter the Google account email address and password, then click Next.

  4. Follow the steps that appear.

2: Restrict sign-in to only your family members

  1. Sign in to the Chromebook with the Owner account.

  2. At the bottom-right corner, select the time/date to display the hidden menu.

  3. Select Settings (cog icon).

  4. In the People section, select Manage other people.

  5. Turn on Restrict sign-in to the following users.

  6. You'll see a list of all the Google accounts on your Chromebook. You can add or remove accounts from this list.

3: Turn off ‘Guest Mode’

This is a very important step. It means your child cannot browse as a guest and avoid Family Zone.

  1. If you're signed in as a guest, sign out.

  2. Sign in to your Chromebook using the owner account.

  3. At the bottom-right corner, select the time/date to display the hidden menu.

  4. Select Settings (cog icon).

  5. In the People section, select Manage other people.

  6. Turn off Enable Guest browsing.

Step 3: Install the Family Zone Chrome Extension

Watch this video on installing Family Zone.

Installation Guide:

  1. Browse to www.familyzone.com/laptops

  2. Scroll down and select Download for Chromebook

  1. This will open Google Chrome Web Store. Select Add to Chrome.

  2. Select Add extension.

  3. Enable Mobile Zone (Education Edition) extension in incognito mode.
    This is important because by default, Google Chrome disables extensions in Incognito mode. Your child may exploit this to bypass filtering.

    1. Open Google Chrome

    2. Browse to chrome://extensions into your Chrome browser

    3. On the Mobile Zone (Education Edition) extension and select Details

    4. Enable Allow in Incognito

  4. Click on the recently added Mobile Zone extension.

  5. Sign in with your Family Zone email address and password.

  6. Update the device name, select the device owner and click sign in.

  7. Mobile Zone for Chromebook (Education Edition) is now protecting your device

Step 4: Troubleshooting Chromebooks with Teenagers

If you’ve given your teenager a Chromebook and a personal Google account then please be aware they will be able to remove Family Zone’s extension from the Chrome browser.

If that happens, then we will keep scanning and if we don’t see traffic from their device in the following 14 days, we will let you know. 

We recommend you check their Chromebook and Google account from time to time to ensure your safety measures have not been tampered with.

Using Family Zone with Google accounts for children under 13

Unfortunately this is not possible. Our Chrome app (extension) is not currently suitable for users of Google Family Link i.e. users under 13.

Using Google Family Link for parental controls

Google’s in-built parental control feature is called Google Family Link. This service operates on Android devices, Chromebooks and in Chrome browsers.

Step 1: Switch your Chromebook on and run the setup wizard

1: Turn on your Chromebook

  1. If the battery is detached, install the battery.

  2. Press the power button.

2: Follow the on-screen instructions

  1. To choose your language and keyboard settings, select the language that appears on the screen.

  2. Choose your WiFi network.

  3. Accept the Terms of Service.

3: Sign in with your Parent Google Account

  • The first person to sign into the device becomes the Owner (Administrator).

  • Remember to sign is as a Parent, not your child’s school or personal Google account.

  • If you do not have a Google account, follow the on-screen prompts to create one.

Step 2: Restrict access to your Family’s Google accounts only

1: Add all of your family users to the Chromebook

  1. If you're signed in to your Chromebook, sign out.

  2. On the bottom, click Add person.

  3. Enter the Google account email address and password, then click Next.

  4. Follow the steps that appear.

2: Restrict sign-in to only your family members

  1. Sign in to the Chromebook with the Owner account.

  2. At the bottom-right corner, select the time/date to display the hidden menu.

  3. Select Settings (cog icon).

  4. In the People section, select Manage other people.

  5. Turn on Restrict sign-in to the following users.

  6. You'll see a list of all the Google accounts on your Chromebook. You can add or remove accounts from this list.

3: Turn off ‘Guest Mode’

This is a very important step. It means your child cannot browse as a guest and avoid Family Zone.

  1. If you're signed in as a guest, sign out.

  2. Sign in to your Chromebook using the owner account.

  3. At the bottom-right corner, select the time/date to display the hidden menu.

  4. Select Settings (cog icon).

  5. In the People section, select Manage other people.

  6. Turn off Enable Guest browsing.

Troubleshooting Family Link

To find out more about Google Family Link we suggest you visit Google Families. However, here are some quick tips which may assist:

How do I control Family Link?

You need to download the Google Family Link App. It is available on iOS and Android.

Can I avoid using Family Link?

Yes. Family Link is required for Google accounts registered to users under 14. If you find this difficult to use, you can register your children as 14+. However, unless you install Family Zone on their devices, they will be able to access the internet without restrictions.

Can Family Link work with Family Zone on Chromebooks?

Not yet. Family Link can not operate alongside Family Zone on Chromebooks because Google doesn’t provide access to the Google Web Store, where Family Zone can be downloaded.

Can Family Link work with Family Zone on Android?

Yes. Family Link can operate alongside Family Zone on Android devices and it works well, offering you the ability to control apps & screen-time using the Family Link app, and control internet access using Family Zone.

Can I convert a Family Link account to a non Family Link account?

This should be possible. However, we’ve not been able to do it which has resulted in wiped data and upset children. We suggest you speak to your child and warn them of this before you remove Google restrictions from their account.